…and why is it struggling?
I was asked this morning - for the umpteenth time - "what is Occupy Wall Street really about?"
I was asked ONLY because people who know me know that I'm politically engaged, and my friends, readers, and viewers generally respect my opinion. I am not "part of the Occupy movement," unless you retrofit me, since I've been saying many of the same things that the Occupy movement is saying now for the last twenty-five years. Indeed, until the violent attacks began against the movement over this last week, and in particular Tuesday morning, I had resisted even endorsing the movement. I'll get to the reasons for that in a minute, but for now:
I was asked, and this was my response:
"I think in some ways it's still deciding that question, or maybe more to the point figuring it out, but as I see it in a nutshell it's about restoring (or perhaps establishing?) the balance of power between government, industry, and people.
Right now, government and industry have all the power, and the people have very little. Average people are dying for want of health care, losing their homes, and can't sustain themselves while a small, elite group of industrialists gather the vast majority of material wealth up to themselves, using it to enable politicians who then tilt the legal table in favor of continued exploitation by the industrialists.
Those elite few in politics and industry luxuriate with ridiculous, ostentatious excess wealth while our children are living on the streets and our old people are dying for want of medicine, and our government refuses to act on our behalf - which is, after all, their job - to make things more equitable through regulation and taxation.
The Occupy movement is an outcry against these abuses of power."
Shortcomings – Should Everyone Be “The 99%?”
There are two major shortcomings in the Occupy movement right now.
The first is an insistence on inclusion above all else. This is an understandable, but badly misguided approach. I get it, I really do - the more inclusive you are, the bigger your movement and the more effective and valid the movement is in opposing the power structure that has driven our country into the ground over the last 30 years or so.
Unfortunately, "The 99%" makes for great sloganeering, but unworkable reality. The reality is that some people who aren't wealthy, aloof industrialists or the politicians in their employ are: violent, fit-throwing children; bigots; racists; sexists; homophobes; bullies; abusers of children; those whose only ideology is anger; those whose only concern is themselves. All of those people are simply tyrants whose only interest in opposing "the 1%" is their hope that they will become the new 1%. Acceptance is good; the desire for equality is good. BLIND acceptance is not good; allowing your movement to be overtaken by radical, violent, and/or hateful tyrants-in-waiting is not good.
Shortcomings – Failure to Lead
The second shortcoming that is crippling the Occupy movement is the insistence on not just "equality" but such an over-riding equality that there is nobody willing to step up and be a public face of any kind for the movement to engage the media. I've watched noted author and activist Naomi Wolf literally beg people over the last few days to get some kind of structure in place so that she can pass along contact information for the movement to her media contacts, simply because she's being forced into the role of spokesperson as a matter of default.
And the response to her begging has ranged from apathy to hostility. "We are a leaderless movement!" "We have no spokespeople!" "We don't want to talk to the media!" "Nobody has the authority to speak for us, and that's how it should be!"
No, that's NOT how it should be. I want to preface my further remarks by saying clearly: I am not telling you what to do, I am telling you what must be done if you want to succeed with this. You don’t have to like it or agree with me – your positive feelings and agreement won’t make a bit of difference to the underlying reality.
Right now, the opposition to this movement is entirely controlling the narrative, as a direct result of this approach on the part of the Occupy movement. CNN reported Tuesday morning that there was "no violence" in the Zuccotti clearance...but I sat and watched the live stream for about six hours, and there was PLENTY of violence - regrettably, not ALL of it (but almost all) on the part of NYPD (note my first point, earlier).
Why did they report that there was "no violence?" Because they went looking for spokespeople and when they did, NYPD had someone right there ready for them with a statement that "there was no violence," while Occupy had one (very talented and dedicated) guy with an Android phone, a mega-battery, and a Ustream account...and that guy is more observer than participant himself, which is not to take anything away from his diligent and excellent work.
The movement is not doing itself any favors by indulging those who care more about not getting their egos bruised than about the practical matters of controlling the narrative and getting things done. The world will not be changed by any person or group who is well-mannered and deferential to every opinion in the room at all times.
You control the narrative by feeding the media the stories you want told, word-for-word, and through controlling that narrative you build public support, and with public support change happens. You MUST remember that today's media, far more often than not, does not report, it repeats. If you want them to repeat your perspective, you have to tell them what it is in clear, short sentences.
Or you sit around dithering and worrying about egos (“OMG YOU’RE SO HAUGHTY AND CONDESCENDING! NOBODY IS THE BOSS OF ME!” Great, now go play and let the adults do adult work) and outside your little bubble of nobility and good intent, the world goes "feh, it's a disorganized rabble of malcontents with no purpose and no direction."
Punch me in the mouth later if it bothers you that much, but right NOW the number one priority is taking firm control of how OWS is defined and presented in the media, to the maximum extent possible. All other success stems from that…and only failure stems from continued refusal to engage the media in a coherent and organized manner.
Please. We all need this movement to succeed, and it’s not going to until we stop living in the world of theory and good intentions and start living in the world that we’re in.